Friday, June 17, 2016

A Friday Blog, a Treasurer's Report

I should probably wear a ball cap as Tim O'Brien does.
Here I am, sixty, blogging daily, for which, during the adjustment period at least, I'm doing very little else. I keep dates with TV shows that I'm watching, but I've not been farther than the curb to take the trash barrels out in longer than I can remember. I have been meaning to write a personal blog (as opposed to an essay on an idea or interest) for some time, so today I will give it a go.

I'm in the thick of a transitional period. I'm confident this blog will take off eventually. I have written and earned large audiences before. I wrote for The Daily Texan, the student newspaper at the University of Texas (circulation around 58,000) and enjoyed the rush of walking around campus and seeing people reading my front page stuff and following it to the inside. I've written an internet newsletter in the days of list servers and quickly worked my way up to an audience of a thousand. For a few months spanning 1999 and 2000 I wrote a Web diary—the prototype for a blog—and enjoyed a substantial readership. So here I am focusing not so much on the numbers as on the commitment to publish a blog daily—if I build it, they will come. And it doesn't matter if I have readers now: I write about many topics, organic SEO, that will bring readers to issues in the future because they satisfy their search conditions. Google knows I'm here.

Some of what I watch on TV isn't television in the traditional sense, but vlogs of people who cook, eat, travel, live abroad, love their cats, engineer, skateboard, actsing, dancedoodlejoke, psychoanalyze, or just make cinematic short films about their lives every day. Most of his days Hemingway was up and writing by 5 a.m., but he had leisure days too when he sent someone out for "the papers" then lazed in bed reading the news. He started out as a journalist, so he read the papers more widely and deeply than most of us. Since I only rarely have business out, I start most my days with equal leisure, but instead of Hemingway's papers, I fire up the app on my phone, which lets me see what notifications have rolled in while I slept, then I can cast what I want to see onto my big-screen TV. Casey Neistat says that the secret to his success—he has three million followers on YouTube—is to produce a vlog every day. I'm not vlogging very much, but I think the rule will work just as well for blogging. On the other hand, my topic is unpredictable from one day to the next, so I might do better to write exclusively about one topic, but that's too boring for me—a life in a tunnel. I need an audience who appreciates my style or attitude and who can follow me as I dodge in and out of various interests. I am a generalist.

Casey, an early riser in New York, used to have a video ready to go every morning by 8 early unless he was staying in a hotel with such bad WiFi that it took hours to upload his MP4 files, so he is one of the first that I watch every morning. More lately, since he finished his year commitment, he has gotten a tad more relaxed about when each day's video becomes available. But his lateness isn't a problem for me—not to jump ahead of myself, but I work until nearly dawn most nights, so it's usually noon when I wake. Videos, mail, news, and pictures by photographers that I follow are all waiting for my attention.

After a few videos I'm awake enough to walk down the hall, have a pee, wash hands, grab a glass of orange juice, come back to my room and watch a few more videos. I take my blood pressure medicine, and, because I watch these in reverse order of interest, I begin to prepare for the day as I watch the videos that don't succeed in grabbing my undivided attention. I have economical shades on my windows made from heavy paper stock. The shades are pleated, so I have to take them in my hands and fold them up, then put two clothes-pin-like clamps on them to hold them up. This furling ritual has become a mindful way of opening the room to the light. I power up my desktop computer. The YouTube app on my phone does not readily relinquish control of my TV, so it continues on its tangent—either the complete oeuvre of the YouTuber I was watching before, or a bunch of different YouTubers chiming in on the same topic (yesterday, DNA tests for ethnicity)—and depending upon my mood, I'll either leave the videos running as I sit down to the desktop for the first time or I'll go to silent running. I don't listen to much music first thing in the day. Travel completely interrupted listening to music in a micromanaged, highly refined tastes kind of way, and now I'm not sure what to listen to anymore. I once had a good idea of what music I wanted for almost any frame of mind, but now most of that seems old and dated, and I'm overwhelmed by the possibilities offered by Amazon Prime music. Having been out of American culture for so long, I'm now lost in it.

At the computer I take care of tending my mother's financial affairs, which is part of the caretaking job I have now that she's 92 years old. I also check email and the social networks. I find myself proffering advice on Google+ that even I don't follow: "Some burgers, even small sliders, have a heart attack in every bite. You don't always have to clean your plate to clean your slate. Take some aspirin every day." Well, I do take the aspirin. Only my Google+ author page automatically gets the announcement for the new blog, which is programmed to go public at 9 a.m., so I copy the announcement to all my other accounts manually. On Wednesdays I also write my mother's shopping list in a spreadsheet, and on Thursdays around 2 or 3 p.m. my brother shows up with whatever is on the list. And while this is going on I keep an eye out for the mailman. For the first year that I was here I thought he had been in some accident that had left his head permanently cocked to his left shoulder, but then one day I realized that he is perpetually on the cellphone held between his head and shoulder. I have one of those ear plugs that I don't use—I should give it to him.


Annet Mahendru as Sally Pacholok
So with money managed, email and social network correspondence answered, it's usually mid-afternoon, and I stop for kitchen duties like emptying the dishwasher and cooking something for brunch. If I cook us a substantial meal, then I will watch a TV show while I eat. Right now I'm reviewing the first two seasons of Tyrant, one episode per night, and timing it so that I will see the last episode of Season 2 the night before the premiere of Season 3. I'm especially eager to see the new Tyrant episodes because the beautiful and talented Annet Mahendru, who played Nina on FX's The Americans until she was executed in a Soviet prison, will begin playing a new character, Nafisa Al-Qadi, in the second episode of the new season of Tyrant. Recently I watched all the first season of David Duchovny's Aquarius to prepare for last night's two-hour season premiere on NBC. Aquarius, if you haven't seen it, is a cop show, which I normally avoid except Duchovny is great as a curmudgeonly detective with few kind words for anybody, and I'm fascinated by the show's fantasia rotating among Charles Manson, the Hollywood precinct of the L.A. Police Department, and a 1960s Los Angeles so corrupt that even the air is unbreathable—and all that against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, which we learn was not a war to get rid of Communism but to preserve the flow of heroin. (Indochina was called the Golden Triangle because of its opium production; the world's other big opium production region is in Afghanistan.) That Vietnam was a heroin war is a brazen implication for one of the hoary old television networks.

I also worked, one episode per night, through all of Game of Thrones before Season Six started. But when I don't have shows I'm reviewing, I might watch Seinfeld, which Hulu has in its entirety for no additional charge, though I can also kill a lot of time just browsing the ROKU for movies I might want to watch in the future. Altogether this adds up to less than two hours of television per evening, though under extraordinary circumstances it can go up to three. 

After I see my shows I move back to the desktop computer. I let myself get distracted while I work, so things take much longer than if I just sat down and dashed them off. Sometimes I toy with YouTube or Amazon Prime for music that won't disrupt the work. For instance, at the moment I'm listening to Anoushka Shankar's album Rise, which is a highly textured hybrid of Western and Eastern music that I can get lost in while I write. As I write I frequently look things up, and these dashes of research create tangents that edify me and sometimes the work at hand. The night is dark and not necessarily full of terrors, but I do get hungry and stop for a snack now and then. During this productive phase, the middle of the night while the world sleeps, I feel completely alone and undisturbed by its racket. I get things done, but I'm always surprised by how quickly the hour flies by. Right now it's 4:08 a.m., and I'm going to find some kind of snack, which turned out to be English muffins.

The piece usually has its shape before 5 a.m., so I go back to the beginning and read through, correcting some errors but mostly rewriting passages here and there to enhance the story and to make sure there's some kind of ending to it. Tonight's ending poses the question whether in writing a personal piece, I have gotten truly personal or not. I think not really personal enough, but it was the voyage out, and tomorrow will present new opportunities. I have to go to the UPS Store tomorrow (later today, after I've slept), which will be my first outing in many weeks.